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sad_robert 03-02-2009 09:04 PM

Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Hi,

I apologize in advance if my questions have previously been answered, however I searched the forum and couldn't find any posts that fully answered them.

A brief background of myself to put my questions in context: I'm a young adult who has been doing Aikido for only 1 month now. My motivation for undertaking the martial art was naturally for self-defence, but also, as someone with a mild-mannered temperament, to improve my self-confidence.

1. How common is it to encounter an instructor (not sensei) with an ego problem? Throughout my brief time at the dojo there has been one particular instructor who has ridiculed me on numerous occasions, while employing a condescending tone when teaching. I find myself consciously avoiding any possibility of being paired with him during class and am relieved when he doesn't attend at all. The only reason I haven't left the dojo is that the sensei himself (along with most other sempai) is the diametrical opposite of this instructor. I appreciate that you're always going to encounter these kinds of people in any context, but from my limited understanding, a student's ascension to the higher ranks of Aikido is not solely based on technique, but also on their personality. Shouldn't it then be surprising that this instructor has gotten as far as he has? (I'm not sure what 'dan' rank he has obtained).

2. I feel this question is the more important of the two. Once again, I just want to reiterate that I've only been doing Aikido for 1 month, so I hope people aren't too judgemental.

I appreciate and am comfortable with the idea of lower ranking students showing respect for those that are of a higher rank. However, there have been many times when I do feel that the line from respect to submission has been crossed. For instance, during setup we are required to both sweep and wipe down the mats, and I am more than happy to help out with these tasks. But, after I've done more than my fair share, I'm constantly told to finish off for another sempai and more often than not barked at to hurry up. It is a similar scenario when packing up at the end of the class. In short, when a sempai orders me to do something, I feel intimidated and I don't have the free-will to say no. So my question is, how can this not be interpreted as an act of submission more along the lines of a master/slave relationship rather than a teacher/student relationship?

Overall, I am worried that, rather than these classes improving my self-confidence, they are having an adverse effect on my self-esteem. It seems to me that this dojo has instilled the idea that the only way to feel good about yourself is to be in control of others, which I don't think is in the spirit of Aikido.

Please help me sort this out.

roninroshi 03-02-2009 09:15 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
You should be nurtured and helped along...if your instructor is not helping you and you are feeling ridiculed find another Dojo or perhaps a new MA...Bagua or Taiji two good internal styles that will benefit you,
Good luck

giriasis 03-02-2009 09:24 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
First, it's not a master/slave relationship. It's a teacher/student relationship. Respect goes both ways. Just because you joined a dojo does not mean you check your dignity and self-worth at the door.

With that being said...

You can't change the dojo. You can leave the dojo. If you feel you're being mistreated then leave. THAT'S YOUR CHOICE.

Abasan 03-02-2009 09:28 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Learn to say no respectfully and responsibly. You do things or help out the sensei as a sign of respect. You're however not the maid for the instructor.

sad_robert 03-02-2009 10:46 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Firstly, thank-you all for your insight and advice.

Quote:

Anne Marie Giri wrote: (Post 225851)
First, it's not a master/slave relationship. It's a teacher/student relationship. Respect goes both ways. Just because you joined a dojo does not mean you check your dignity and self-worth at the door.

So does this mean that what I'm experiencing at the dojo in terms of sempai ordering me around is not a 'normal', universal occurrence?

Also, I want to repeat the point that the sensei himself has been nothing but supportive, which makes it difficult to just leave. I'm also lost as to who exactly the rest of the class (including the instructors) are trying to emulate.

Jonathan 03-02-2009 11:25 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Quote:

The only reason I haven't left the dojo is that the sensei himself (along with most other sempai) is the diametrical opposite of this instructor.
If this is the case, I wouldn't let one obnoxious person ruin an otherwise good circumstance for you. If the sensei is truly very supportive, then he will certainly understand your unwillingness to be trampled underfoot by this assistant instructor. Make it clear (in a polite way) to the instructor that you aren't willing to accept any nonsense from him. Perhaps a talk with the sensei to let him know how you are feeling is in order as well.

Quote:

But, after I've done more than my fair share, I'm constantly told to finish off for another sempai and more often than not barked at to hurry up. It is a similar scenario when packing up at the end of the class. In short, when a sempai orders me to do something, I feel intimidated and I don't have the free-will to say no. So my question is, how can this not be interpreted as an act of submission more along the lines of a master/slave relationship rather than a teacher/student relationship?
Well, it is a master-slave relationship if that is what you allow it to be. At some point in your training you're going to have to learn to overcome feeling intimidated. Perhaps now is the time for you to begin to do so.

Jon.

Amir Krause 03-03-2009 03:22 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Quote:

So does this mean that what I'm experiencing at the dojo in terms of sempai ordering me around is not a 'normal', universal occurrence?
Not only not universal, but I believe going to the extent you describe it is the exception (for worst).

There are two totally seperate issues:
1 . In many Japanese Martial Arts students are expected to help and accept responsibility on them.The senior students are expected to accept more respnsibility to them and do more not less.
The teacher himself should set the example, and be the first to do most tasks. The students may show their respect to the teacher (who might also be much older or even old) by doing things for him, and replacing him. Again, the more vetran students should be the first for that, and the newer students should learn from their example (even without any verbal instruction).

2. The Sempai / Kohai relationship, means that a junior is expected to respect his seniors, and follow their instructions. In the places I know of, almost all instructions would regard the practice itself.

I have been a relativly vetran practioner in my sensei's dojo for a few years. When I thought the dojo was dirty (after/before class), I started cleaning it myself without asking anyone (Senei was still taking care of the office issues). Most of my "Kohai" and in some cases my Sempai simply saw me and joined (unless they had something else to do, which they deemed more important). Same goes for me when another decided cleaning was neccessery. Often, someone came to replace me (we only have so many cleaning tools), in other cases, I replaced another. I only asked another to replace me if something more important came up in the middle (Sensei asking me to come, a call, ...).

The way you describe things sounds very problematic to me. If the issue is not your owm over-sensitivity and your description describes the actual situation, something is very strange there. I also do not get the situation in which one Sempai is giving all the instructions and Sensei is letting him.

Amir

Nick P. 03-03-2009 07:14 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
...not that the answer to my question will be of great value, but is the sempai in #1 the same as sempai in #2?

In other words, is all the abuse coming from one or more sempai?

I would recommend, if possible, going to watch another dojo and see if you come away with the same impressions.

Joe McParland 03-03-2009 08:09 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
There are things that need to be done, and that alone is reason enough to do them. And when you do those things, just do them.

If you resist doing what needs to be done, say, because someone is bossing you to do them, or because you felt you have done your share and you feel that someone else has not, then there *is* an ego problem that must be overcome.

Ultimately, someone barking at you to do more or to do less, to go faster or go slower, and so forth, will have little sway over you once you find and practice maintaining your center.

By the same token, if you are centered, you will recognize actual abuse for what it is and deal with it appropiately - doing what needs to be done - whether that means punching the fellow in the nose, or walking away from this dojo, or anything in between.

sorokod 03-03-2009 08:15 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Quote:

Anonymous User wrote: (Post 225845)
... but from my limited understanding, a student's ascension to the higher ranks of Aikido is not solely based on technique, but also on their personality.

This is incorrect, pleasant personality or high moral standards have nothing to do with rank promotion in Aikido.

Buck 03-03-2009 08:26 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
You can't control the dojo. You can't change it. The power over the situation is what you want. You want that because your uncomfortable there, you don't agree with it and want it to change to fit you. That power comes from the choices you make. The choices I see that will make everyone happy are 1. Leave the dojo find one that shares your views.
2. except or adjust to the situation on their terms, and not yours.

Joe McParland 03-03-2009 08:26 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Quote:

David Soroko wrote: (Post 225871)
This is incorrect, pleasant personality or high moral standards have nothing to do with rank promotion in Aikido.

That is not technically correct either. Rank is often used as a carrot or a stick in shaping students, dojos, and larger organizations. It can be used skillfully or abusively. And if attaining rank is what drives you, then you are subject to the power of the one who grants it.

Joe McParland 03-03-2009 08:44 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
There is repeated advice that one cannot change a group.

By virtue of nothing more than your presence in the group, the group is changed; members will have experiences that they otherwise would not have had by virtue of their interaction with you. You cannot know how you will make a difference.

That said, don't stay with the intention of changing anything and do not leave because you cannot. Go to practice aikido there or elsewhere if that is right for you.

NagaBaba 03-03-2009 09:09 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
By practicing aikido you are walking the Path. It is not always nice promenade. Very often you will find obstacles and you have to face it. It is a part of practice. If you skip every time you have something difficult in front of you, you can never learn what aikido(and in fact any other martial art) is about.

These difficulties will teach you to how to reinforce your weaknesses. It is the only way to become strong. Face them as a man; deal with it with all your capacities. Aikido is a Budo, not a circle of mutual adoration.

Jorge Garcia 03-03-2009 10:37 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Quote:

Szczepan Janczuk wrote: (Post 225877)
By practicing aikido you are walking the Path. It is not always nice promenade. Very often you will find obstacles and you have to face it. It is a part of practice. If you skip every time you have something difficult in front of you, you can never learn what aikido(and in fact any other martial art) is about.

These difficulties will teach you to how to reinforce your weaknesses. It is the only way to become strong. Face them as a man; deal with it with all your capacities. Aikido is a Budo, not a circle of mutual adoration.

I agree with Szczepan. Think of a martial arts dojo as the army. In the military, you do what you are told. That is an important part of the training. In the military, they aren't always nice to you and in fact, part of the training is that the treatment you get is to toughen you up. Martial arts are "military arts". The culture of the dojo is a hierarchical system of respect and it was a traditional part of the culture for it to be a hard and transforming activity. In our day though, we act like consumers and think like buyers. We expect to be treated nicely, to be taught clearly, and for the leadership and the way the dojo is run to meet our expectations. I think you wouldn't have done well in the Founder's dojo.

Having said that, I don't believe in abuse or ego on the part of instructors or anyone else but then again, this isn't a perfect world and martial arts attract some strange types. You walked in the door, you can walk out.

Here is an article I wrote for my students with a perspective of this idea.
_____________________________________________________

"To achieve... mastery of a martial art, nothing is better than solid shugyo in which you share daily life with your teacher in absolute obedience. The important thing is, in taking care of all his needs, to continually sense your teacher's feelings before they are made known to you. In the end, you are striving to be able to perceive his intentions...It's unreasonable for me to try to get today's young people to do the same thing. They probably wouldn't give absolute obedience to their master and I'm sure they couldn't even begin to think of caring for their teacher as part of Aikido training."
Gozo Shioda, 9th dan, the Founder of Yoshinkan Aikido

"Serving the Founder was extremely severe even though it was just for the study of a martial art. O Sensei only opened his heart to those students who helped him from dusk to dawn in the fields, those who got dirty and massaged his back, those who served him at the risk of their lives."
Morihiro Saito, 9th dan and keeper of the Iwama Dojo

"In the dojo community, there is a teacher, experienced disciples, and beginners. The teacher is called Sensei. The advanced pupils are called Yudansha, the beginners are called Mudansha. A Yudansha always gives more to the dojo than he takes. For him, the dojo is a part of his life and the members are a part of his family."
Shoji Nishio, 9th dan, a student of the Founder

It has been for some time now that as I have been thinking about what Aikido is and what it does for the individual, that a new thought has occurred to me. The thought is that in order for Aikido to make a psychological change in an individual, there has to be a certain kind of environment and a certain kind of relationship with the teacher.

I first began to look at this old idea in a new light when I would see so many people coming to our dojo seeking something for their children. The parents seemed to have this intuitive belief that martial arts would help the particular thing that they saw their child needed a change in or help in. As I strove to help their children, I quickly realized some things. 1) You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. 2) You can't help someone (particularly with Aikido) who isn't trying to do their best. 3) You can't help someone who resists discipline.

In the first case, you have the problem of motivation. If the person isn't seeking change, they won't change. What seems to change them without their knowing it is when they like the art or they respect the teacher. Then they want to do well so they find the motivation to give it their all. In the second case, some people are self starters and always do their best while others are lazy, demotivated and have poor concentration and diffusion of thought. These lack the intensity to pass through the fires of real change. Any experience that processes a real change in someone is an intense one. Lastly, in most endeavors, be it school, your job, the military or a martial arts dojo, the discipline is the key. Self disciplined people do the best but institutions like the military have a form of forced discipline and that processes change as well but that change can be for the better or the worse in the person due to the enforced nature of the process.

I realized that in a traditional martial arts dojo, everything is about the discipline. The rules of etiquette are not only about the social nature of the institution but about the parameters of behavior each person is required to adhere to. How strictly that is enforced and how the student receives it is the key.

In some situations in western culture, authority soon becomes authoritarianism. This is abuse in the sense that it comes from the top down and may not take into account the feelings of those below. Authoritarianism lacks compassion for it's followers. This is not what we are advocating.

Recently, I was thinking about my master teacher from Japan. By training, he follows the rules of protocol of Aikido but I have noticed that he never demands it from anyone. Everyone gives him their obedience because they respect him but I have never seen him ask anyone to do any of the things the protocol asks for. He fully expects it to come from you. He once said that "Aikido is not something to learn from others, but to learn by oneself. Ideally, the practice should be for oneself, and it should be rigorous and sternly self-disciplined, by one's own choice." This voluntary giving of oneself to Aikido and it's processes is what changes an individual. It has to come from the person though. The heart must be soft, obedient and pliable in the hands of a good and honest instructor of Japanese budo in order to see the psycho social transformative change that so many are looking for. If you think of Aikido in this way, you will realize that almost the entire training of Aikido is discipline. From the time you walk through the door, in its etiquette and rules, there are rules for almost everything. On the mat, you are subject to the discipline and instruction of the Sensei or instructor. Almost every word and action is corrective in nature thus falling under the category of discipline.

Then there are the aspects mentioned in the quotes above. In the early days of Aikido, it was considered a budo which was a particular form of discipline by which you would undergo severe training taking you from the ego self to the egoless self thus finding your true (purified) humanity. This process was not automatic and many people resisted it naturally, but some submitted themselves to it and for these, the training went to higher and higher levels. If Aikido is a training of the mind, then the relationship with the teacher in terms of authority, submission to his instruction, directions and discipline were the keys to the psychological and social changes in the practitioners.

I think that this is the point where many of my readers will take exception to my comments and part company with me. I think though that I need to direct you back to what my teacher says. He said that "Aikido is not something to learn from others, but to learn by oneself. Ideally, the practice should be for oneself, and it should be rigorous and sternly self-disciplined, by one's own choice." This is the key. It is not the instructor who forces the student to submit or follow. That always comes from the students and the students should always think for themselves and rule over their own mind and conscience. In a real budo relationship, the instructor is a guide and a mentor who leads by example and by setting the parameters of the protocol. The students set the level of their obedience. The instructor has the option to help and reward those who are following him and are obedient to his instructions (with regard to the training).

Gozo Shioda Sensei understands that modern people would highly resist this kind of training lacking the background and mindsets of the past but still, he makes clear that the training of sensing your teacher's desires was one of intuition and sensitivity that would take your martial abilities to another level in terms of being able to sense your opponent's next move. Physical training alone can do that but sensing the needs of others is indeed a master level skill. To tune yourself to the teacher at that level is a relational skill that goes to the kind of human you are rather than the kind of warrior you are.

Nishio Sensei, in the third quote, goes on to describe the dojo as a place structured for the care and discipline of its members. He shows that the dojo or training hall is a place of hierarchy and order and that the purpose of that is for the care of each other.

The psycho-social transformative change that Aikido as a budo brings is a long process that works on an individual outwardly through the forms, discipline and etiquette of the art. The inward, compassionate and relational aspects of the changes are personal in nature and come from a close and direct relationship with a mentor and guide that you truly respect and love. It is in these two poles of tension that we are stretched into change.

This kind of training is not for everyone and it may well be that its time has passed but if that is the case, then the era of Aikido as a budo will have passed and it may be then that the hopes and dreams of Morihei Ueshiba for Aikido will never be realized.

Within the limits of common sense, compassion, rationality and good judgment on the part of the teacher, I think that we still need the expressions of the budo of the past for people today. It has to be voluntary though and the teacher must never be abusive in his leadership but must always have the well being of his students in mind as a guide in transforming human character through budo.

Best wishes,
Jorge

Janet Rosen 03-03-2009 10:51 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
There is another path, esp if the barking is coming from a sr student, not the dojocho/chief instructor: calmly tell the barker that you are happy to participate in dojo chores, but that you will not be addressed that way in any circumstances and that if he cannot address you with basic human respect you will stop doing whatever chore you are in the middle of.
This will be hard but it may be just the training you are looking for as a mild mannered person.

sorokod 03-03-2009 02:29 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Quote:

Joe McParland wrote: (Post 225873)
That is not technically correct either. Rank is often used as a carrot or a stick in shaping students, dojos, and larger organizations. It can be used skillfully or abusively. And if attaining rank is what drives you, then you are subject to the power of the one who grants it.

A real world counter example to my statement?

Joe McParland 03-03-2009 02:52 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Quote:

David Soroko wrote: (Post 225871)
This is incorrect, pleasant personality or high moral standards have nothing to do with rank promotion in Aikido.

Quote:

Joe McParland wrote: (Post 225873)
That is not technically correct either. Rank is often used as a carrot or a stick in shaping students, dojos, and larger organizations. It can be used skillfully or abusively. And if attaining rank is what drives you, then you are subject to the power of the one who grants it.

Quote:

David Soroko wrote: (Post 225902)
A real world counter example to my statement?

I will not promote you with that attitude, David!

Lan Powers 03-03-2009 03:49 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
:)

sorokod 03-03-2009 05:02 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
:)

Joe McParland 03-03-2009 06:23 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
;)

sad_robert 03-03-2009 08:58 PM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Wow...there is a lot of information here to digest. Once again, I would like to thank everyone who shared their thoughts. In particular, I would like to thank Amir and Jorge for their in-depth replies.

In honesty there are some points which I don't agree with, but I decided against posting a rebuttal, which would probably result in a lot of back-and-forth banter.

Overall, in terms of resolving the issue it seems pretty obvious that I have to voice my opinion the next time I feel that a sempai has crossed the line from teacher to master. If he/she takes offense to my 'defiance', and if after consulting sensei no positive resolution has been achieved, I will have to search for a new dojo.

While I said I wouldn't rebut any of the comments made, I can't help make two points.

- It seems some people are trying walk this very thin tightrope between submission and respect. To me, the conclusion almost seems to be: yes, you should be submissive, but because of the constraints posed by the Western, modern world, we have to slightly modify the definition of what submissiveness is. I don't want to get into a debate about semantics - all I know is I should never feel intimidated by my instructor.

- I don't appreciate the idea of not being able to change the dojo, particularly when the issue revolves around a sole person who is not the sensei. Everyone is fallible, even instructors. The idea that they are above reproach, that their egos are too large to concede that there is room for improvement, seems highly ironic. Moreover, this seems like a very corrosive lesson when applied to other facets of life outside of the dojo.

sorokod 03-04-2009 03:45 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Quote:

Anonymous User wrote: (Post 225927)
...- It seems some people are trying walk this very thin tightrope between submission and respect. To me, the conclusion almost seems to be: yes, you should be submissive, but because of the constraints posed by the Western, modern world, we have to slightly modify the definition of what submissiveness is. I don't want to get into a debate about semantics - all I know is I should never feel intimidated by my instructor.

In my opinion you choose a false dichotomy, one can have humility and respect, one can be humble and confident.

Joe McParland 03-04-2009 06:48 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
sad_robert:

I can see how you may have gotten your *first* wrist pinned down, but how did you manage to nail your second wrist to that cross?

Why not just come down from there, agree that this is really a non-issue, buy a round for your dojo mates, have a laugh, and get back to practice?

Michael Douglas 03-04-2009 10:17 AM

Re: Master/slave relationship and Instructor with ego
 
Quote:

Sad wrote:
...My motivation for undertaking the martial art was naturally for self-defence,

Many people join an aikido dojo for reasons other than to learn 'self defence'. :)

Quote:

Sad wrote:
I don't want to get into a debate about semantics - all I know is I should never feel intimidated by my instructor.

If he doesn't SOMETIMES intimidate you, he's no way near scary enough! :mad:
A worthwhile instructor of martial arts should be able to intimidate the majority of his students at will.


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